Thursday, November 13, 2014

Crying out for attention

Seems like an overlong time since I really devoted a lot of blog space to my children (especially as individual entities and not just a collective wonderful excuse for me to get all jazzed about Halloween) so let’s dig right in, shall we?

It’s been about three months, or a hair less, since we started the younger two in daycare, and it has had the predictable effects on the bino. Meaning he has low-grade systemic unwellness more or less constantly these days. I’m sure his immune system will figure out what’s happening and rise to the occasion any day now (and I keep reassuring my wife to that effect) but for now he rides up and down the crests and troughs, from a nose runny with clear stuff and few-to-zero other symptoms, to a nose runny with murky stuff plus a persistent chest wheeze and plus unpredictable GI irregularities plus coughing that gets worse when he’s horizontal, leading to bouts of backsliding into the ranks of the sleep-challenged.

The good news is that the bino is sufficiently sleep trained that he can, barring major external disruptions, wake up in the middle of the night and settle himself back down to sleep without the need of any parental intervention whatsoever. That is an unalloyed Positive Thing. We somehow survived all three kids going through that treacherous, nebulous phase where it was no sure thing that they could re-settle themselves, and that led to great pillow-headed debates about whether it would do more harm than good to go in and try to help the baby settle down, or if it would do more harm than good to let them keep trying themselves, possibly winding themselves up more and more. And as often as not one trip into the nursery would lead to another a half hour later and yet another an hour after that, and so on into lamentable ugliness. Being clear of all that is great.

The bad news is that the bino will sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in minor distress, which will pass in a moment, but before that moment has elapsed the bino (and this is unique among the siblings) will let out a wail expressing the depth and fury of his displeasure at his sudden wakefulness. And that in turn wakes us up with a quickness. As I said, the moment then passes, the angry yelling stops almost as fast as it began, and the bino drifts off again. But that leaves one or both parents (usually my wife) struggling to re-enter the sleep cycle, heart hammering at having been shouted awake. So while the bino can, in theory, sleep through the night, at least no longer requiring that anyone responsible for him get up out of bed way ahead of schedule, he’s still not what we would call a good sleeper. So that’s the milestone we’re looking forward to most.

Meanwhile, during daylight hours, he’s talking more and more, which still only amounts to a smattering of recognizable words, but the floodgates seem poised to open soon. And he’s listening like a champ, which is actually a much bigger challenge. We’ve grown accustomed to being able to talk openly about things only his big brother and sister can do right in front of him, as long as all we’re doing is talking, formulating plans to get the bino upstairs and in bed so that the older kids can have special privileges and whatnot. It’s not like he understands, as long as he doesn’t see the big kids heading into the den together without him or something, right? Except we seem to have passed that point already, such that last night I was talking to the big kids about how I was going to take their brother upstairs, and I would leave him in his room for a minute to run back down and get them dessert, which I didn’t want the bino to see because then he would want some and we didn’t have any toddler-friendly options. And sure enough, the big kids agreed to the plan but the bino ran away when I tried to pick him up, and pitched a fit because clearly he wanted dessert as well and he knew what was up. If we’re going to continue trying to snow the bino into thinking he’s not missing out on stuff (stuff he is indeed totally missing out on) then we are going to have to get a lot sneakier about it.

As far as my middle child … she happens to be a little bit under the weather today but by and large she has not had the system shock from breathing in daycare air that her baby brother has. Her greatest acclimation challenge has been social rather than physical, since she is by nature somewhat shy and skeptical of new things and strange people. Still, the ‘somewhat’ is still operative, and her daycare teachers have been letting us know that she has been coming out of her shell little by little. Good for her, and I’m more than happy to let her continue to do so at her own pace.

It’s a different story under our roof, of course, as it should be. Her comfort level is greatest within the natural familial boundaries, and she has no trouble standing up for herself and making her opinions known when things do not go her way at home. She’s three and a half, the perfect age for all-consuming obdurate willfulness, but what’s remarkable about her (to my wife and me, at least) is how blank that wall of will can be. With the little guy, there would be an idea and he would fixate on it and we could pivot off that, a little or a lot depending on how indulgent we were feeling and how outlandish the desire was. If he was upset about a broken toy, and it was cheap, we could offer to buy him a new one the next day, or if it was expensive, we could go into teachable moment mode and impart the importance of taking care of prized possessions and give him an avenue for earning a new toy. If he wanted to wear shorts in January, we could explain weather-appropriate clothing and remind him he didn’t really want to get sick, and give him two or three choices of warmer attire. We could work with him and meet in the middle, and most of the time he barely realized that the middle covered a lot of ground (and the parts of the middle closest to what Mommy and Daddy wanted all along were the places we were most likely to land).

Not so much with the little girl. She’ll get upset at the drop of a hat and we really won’t be sure why. So we’ll ask her directly what it is that she wants and the answer comes back: “NOTHING!” It can be a situation that seems straightforwardly binary: cooperate for your bath, and get videos, or fight us on bathing, and lose videos, which do you want? And she somehow denies the Law of the Excluded Middle and takes a third option of NOTHING. My wife and I joke that she’s a budding nihilist, but it’s really a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry kind of thing.

It’s very difficult to compromise with the idea of NOTHING. You can’t make the kid feel like they’re getting a little bit of what they want while you get a bit of what you want when they don’t want anything at all. Seriously, it may be the sleep deprivation talking, but it makes me question my grip on reality sometimes. It seems obvious that either the kid is fine with wearing the jacket I want them to wear, or they want to wear a different jacket, or they don’t want to wear a jacket at all, but they have to want one of those three things. The little guy would always eventually let himself be pinned down on some preference, which could be a starting point for negotiation. The little girl short circuits all that by claiming that she doesn’t want to wear any jacket but she also doesn’t want to not wear a jacket, she just wants NOTHING, which gets my brain all in a tizzy. Is it even possible not want something and also not not want it? Is she negating reality around us like Neo at the end of the Matrix?

Well no, not that last bit; she just weeps a lot at the unfairness of life when I make decisions for her and she fails to achieve the perfection of NOTHING. It’s a drag, but hopefully just a temporary phase. In fairness, we have very recently gotten through to her on the virtues of the sticker chart, which worked so well on her older brother. (We’re still not above bribing children to get into good habits!) The charts are working to unjam some of the loggerheads we had been stuck at; not perfectly, not yet, but progress is progress.

I do still have three kids, but the little guy, in addition to the passing references above, has always gotten a disproportionate amount of attention just by virtue of being oldest, so I will save some updates on him until tomorrow, and just let things here stand as they are.

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